Close your eyes and think back to the last time you picked up a physical copy of a print publication. Maybe it was at the newspaper stand at the airport, grabbing the current issue of your favorite magazine before boarding the plane. Maybe it was at a relative’s house, a hair salon or stopping by a Collegiate Times box on your way to class. While it may be easy for some to think of these moments, others may have to reach farther into the regions of their brain to remember a time spent reading a physical print publication. This may be expected given the prevalence of digital media, but it is disheartening to watch this transition become the new normal.
Although this may seem old-fashioned to some, I have always enjoyed waking up in the morning to read the newspaper. Even as a child, I would sit at the dining room table eating breakfast while simultaneously scouring the back pages of the Style section of the Washington Post to read the daily edition of KidsPost. I loved the Monday edition, where they highlighted local birthdays and those of influential people in society. I have since branched out into reading other sections, but there is something about holding a physical copy of a paper that is comforting and nostalgic. Not only is it a way to stay informed of current events, but allows one to truly appreciate the hard work that goes into publishing a paper. It is, therefore, hard to watch print journalism slowly fade away as digital platforms become the more mainstream source of news.
Since the introduction of the internet in the early 1990s, society has found other ways to display news and information. Dr. Dale Jenkins, advanced instructor in the School of Communication at Virginia Tech, describes how the creation of the internet impacted the newspaper industry.
“The interesting thing about newspapers is that they made a big mistake,” Jenkins said. “People started putting stuff up on the internet, there’s a larger audience, you could get to (information) quickly and newspapers felt like they were being left behind.”
The internet is everywhere, from phones to tablets and laptops. This makes accessing news much easier, because it is constantly at one’s fingertips. As the internet became more popular, the dissemination of news began to shift from solely print journalism to digital outlets. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the distribution of weekly newspapers in the U.S. dropped from 55.8 million in 2002 to 24.2 million in 2020. The prevalence of the internet was underestimated, thus leaving print journalism behind. Because the distribution of print publications has declined, so too did revenues. The revenue of Newspaper Publishers saw a decrease from $46.2 billion in 2002 to $22.1 billion in 2020. Advertising moved online, forcing publications to find other ways to fund papers.
Although digital media has made news more accessible, it is a double-edged sword in that it has its disadvantages — one of the biggest being that it makes it easier for outlets to spread misinformation.
“The cardinal rule in journalism is accuracy and it’s all centered upon if you can’t verify the information, then you shouldn’t use it” Jenkins said. “I think unfortunately social media has allowed us to become a little shotty in terms of our reporting.”
Anyone can post online. Users can easily edit pages from websites such as Wikipedia or post publicly on social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook. One outlet may portray an event in one way, while another may take a completely different perspective. Given that as a society we are constantly surrounded by some form of media, it can be hard to decipher between accurate and inaccurate information. Digital media may make news more readily available, but it questions the value of journalism.
“Just because information is being distributed digitally, doesn't mean that it has to be weak and poorly researched,” Jenkins said. “That part of the process can't go away. The integrity and credibility of the entire media hinges on that.”
On the other hand, many could argue that print journalism has just as many disadvantages in this digital age.
“It oftentimes goes back to money. The whole idea that you've got to figure out how can I put together a publication that I’m proud of, that represents strong journalism, and in the end, how can I do that on a budget,” said Jenkins. “The digital aspect just makes that so much easier.”
Unlike digital formats, printing a physical newspaper is costly. According to an article published by the Seattle Times, the price of news printing has increased by 30% over the last two years. Newspapers require more funds to produce while posting something online can happen with the push of a button. This rise in cost, coupled with the transition to online advertising, has forced outlets to reconsider how to construct a print publication on a budget. It is also important to recognize the struggles faced by smaller papers. With less funding and resources compared to larger publications, smaller publications have been consequently forced to close their presses at much faster rates. Despite the obstacles facing print publications, the future of journalism does not have to be so bleak.
In order for journalism, and ultimately print journalism, to succeed, the cardinal rule of journalism must be preserved: accuracy.
“That's why I think good journalism will survive because I think ultimately people are concerned about the quality of information they get. They are also concerned about the vast amount of misinformation that is distributed via social media,” Jenkins said.
Dr. Jenkins hypothesizes readers may get tired of the constant spread of misinformation over time, an attitude that works in favor of print journalism. The pendulum must swing back towards more accurate information, and print journalism may consequently experience a boost in popularity as people become overwhelmed with digital media. If digital platforms continue to be the number one source of information and print journalism fades away, the cardinal rule of journalism must always remain.
“As far as newspapers go, the print copy may go away, but I don’t think the digital copy will and that’s why I think newspapers will still exist,” Jenkins said. “No, you won’t go and pick up a copy of the newspaper at the box that’s right outside your office, or at the train station or at the airport, but you will still be accessing that information from trained journalists who are working at newspapers.”
Even though we may not be going to purchase physical copies of print publications in the future, people can still have other ways of accessing that information, whether the publication may be online or through different avenues. However, that level of accuracy found within print journalism is not going away.
Print journalism is a labor of love that deserves to be appreciated. Every day, as the public opens the fresh, crisp pages of their favorite daily publication, it is important to stop and think about just how much dedication goes into creating that body of work. Behind the scenes of every publication is a team of journalists working tirelessly to keep the public informed of current events. While print journalism is currently in this state of flux, the future of its existence lies within the hands of the public. As long as readers continue to value accuracy and journalists uphold this ideal, print journalism does not have to fade away. The next time you find yourself aimlessly scrolling through social media, consider purchasing a physical copy of a publication — the future of print journalism will thank you.